Interview with Eclipsed playwright Danai Gurira
Danai Gurira is the Tony-nominated playwright of Eclipsed, which is currently playing at Broadway's Golden Theatre until 19 June 2016.
She was also represented off-Broadway this season with the Playwrights Horizons staging of Familiar, and she has previously appeared as an actress in the Broadway production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone, as well as the self-penned In the Continuum and "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Measure for Measure, off-Broadway. She is also well known for her recurring TV role as Michonne on "The Walking Dead."
Last night she was awarded the Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award at The 61st Annual Drama Desk Awards for her excellence in playwriting.
We caught up with the talented actress and scribe to discuss the success of Eclipsed on Broadway...
Thomas Hayden Millward: It’s lovely to meet you, Danai, and many congratulations on the success of ‘Eclipsed’ on Broadway and on your special Drama Desk award. How are you feeling?
Danai Gurira: I feel great. It’s been a really great time of celebration. I’m here through to the Tony Awards and it’s been really exciting because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to celebrate the fruits of our labour with everybody. So to be able to do that now has just been really exciting.
THM: When I watched ‘Eclipsed,’ I was particular astounded by the achievements of your writing, in that you were also able to include so much humour in such a heart-braking and harrowing tale. What were the essential elements of the script, in your perspective?
DG: Well, firstly the humour disarms an audience. But secondly, it shows that these are not flailing victims. These are dynamic women and girls, who are in the most treacherous of circumstances. I want the audience to feel at home with them. I want them to feel the mechanics of a little community that they have tried to create amidst this horror. At the same time, I want you to experience that horror. So at the drop of a dime, they might be trying to enjoy themselves with a book or whatever, and then that man comes in the room and everything changes and one of them gets taken out, usually the youngest. So, that experience lets us really know what happens to girls and women in war. Those abducted by Boko Haram are an example we know now more clearly. One of them returned just a few days ago with an infant in her arms and that’s pretty much the equivalent of what you see on stage who is pregnant and not by her design – not because she went and fell in love. When I heard that she had a four-month-old in her arms, it was so scary to me how much factual horror is happening to women and girls around areas of conflict. That was the whole point of ‘Eclipsed’ – we have got to pay more attention to these girls and women in war… Not just to the warlords.
THM: Interestingly though, even though there are no male characters actually seen on stage - they are always off-stage and they have no text in the script - their presence is so dominating in this production, which is again another testament to your writing skills. Was this intentional?
DG: Oh, deeply intentional. The idea of ‘Eclipsed’ is the blocking of light. I feel that has happened to all those women and girls out there, who are put through the treachery of war and not actually able to live to their fullest potentials or function in a sense of self-determination. So, to inverse that picture, I had to remove the male factor at least in its physical form and we still see and feel the effect but without his presence taking away attention. It was about really allowing those voices that we never hear be front and centre and be the voices that we connect to. By the end of the play, we’re hopefully thinking of one of, if not all of those five women. We’re not thinking about some man coming in raging or roaring.
THM: And Lupita Nyong’o has had quite a history with the play – originally understudying the same role whilst in training and now starring in its Broadway premiere. Was it a case of the stars aligning with her or did you always have an inkling that ‘Eclipsed’ would end up on Broadway anyway?
DG: Well, I always wanted to work with her. I only knew her a little bit, when she came in at Yale and I had already heard such amazing things about her. I had met her, but I had never seen her work. But then, over the course of the next three years, unfortunately she was in school. I had put on that play and another play ‘The Convert’ that I wanted her to be the lead in as well, but she could never do my plays because she was in school. I used her for workshops. I used her for readings. But I could never actually cast her until now. So it has all worked out. But it is very much a stars-aligning thing.
THM: Well, it has been worth the wait. I don’t know how you manage to fit everything into your schedule, what with all your playwriting and your TV role of Michonne on “The Walking Dead,” but I just wanted to commend you for it.
DG: Thank you. I really appreciate that.